At the risk of potentially causing you, our beloved readers, to OD on stories and pictures of our underwater escapades while in the Philippines, I’m… going to share yet another aquatic adventure. It seems only right, since when you’re on an island, there is only so much time you can spend whizzing around on a motorbike or lazing in a hammock before the call of the ocean becomes too much to resist. Trust me, our time on Camiguin was pretty much a scientific study of exactly this.
As Camiguin was our first stop after having completed our diving certification, we did want to put our newly minted skills to good use and made it a priority to get one day of diving in. Unfortunately, because our underwater camera was only rated to 12m, but as Open Water divers we frequently go as deep as 18m, we were unable to take any photos on this outing. And since talking about diving is not nearly so fun as actually seeing pictures or videos of it, I will simply say that guided by cost factors and simple intuition, we chose to dive with Johnny’s, whom we were very happy with, and largely enjoyed our diving experience as a whole. Our day of diving involved two sites, Tangub Hotsprings and Sunken Cemetery, the former of which was fairly disappointing due to broken/smashed coral and a lack of fish, but the latter was much healthier and far more vibrant and a lot of fun to dive. There are likely better dive sites in and around Camiguin, but most other sites have depth or current issues that would have been too challenging for us as newly minted divers. If we ever find ourselves in Camiguin again, I’d be interested in diving some of the farther sites.
Lucky for you (and for us!), Camiguin’s underwater delights are not limited to those of the diving variety. Indeed, the island is home to a Giant Clam Sanctuary (by which I mean, a sanctuary for Giant Clams, not a giant sanctuary for clams of average size), which obviously Tony & I took the time to visit. The sanctuary is actually run by Siliman University, which has one of the best marine biology programs in the Philippines and we had already seen proof of their excellent conservation efforts over at our secret island where we learned to dive. Knowing what great work they had done with turtles, we were very excited to see what they could do with Giant Clams.
Despite being one of Camiguin’s top rated attractions, it required a lot of patience and persistence to find the sanctuary, as it was terribly signed and required riding down a rather treacherous unmarked road that would have been completely impassable had the ground been remotely wet. However, our dedication was rewarded when we reached the sanctuary and found we were the only visitors there (for the sake of full disclosure, however, it’s possible we were the only visitors on the entire island…).
Our entrance fee to the sanctuary not only included a guided snorkeling tour, but we also got a quick tour of the land facilities which featured a primer on the 6 species of Giant Clams as well as what preservation goals the sanctuary has. The chief goal seems to be to monitor and produce a safe space for reproduction and growth; initially this is done in tanks on land to protect the clams from predators. At a certain point, they are transplanted out into the protected reef area where they continue grow—some of the adult clams in the sanctuary have reached their maximum size and are now a whopping ONE METER in length!
Our two guides took us out to the sanctuary’s shallow reef, where we got to wade amongst rows and rows of Giant Clams. It was a lot like walking through an underwater garden, and I was delighted and amazed by how vibrant and colorful the clams can be. Some of the patterns were so intricate and psychedelic, the colors so saturated, that the soft interiors of the clams looked more like they were formed from silken fabric than flesh! I am always stunned when I see evidence of how dazzling and extraordinary nature can be, and although the clams were far from dynamic subjects, it was still fascinating to see how big they could get and in addition to their exotic good looks. And we still got plenty of action from the protective little clusters of clown fish that were fiercely guarding their knots of anemones that were scattered amongst the rows of clams.
As we waded deeper, the current got stronger and the remainder of our tour was conducted on our bellies as we simply allowed to force of the water to drag us along. Despite the pull, the water was crystal clear (sometimes strong current can result in murkier water as sand and other debris gets swirled about), which allowed our guides to point out the wide varieties of coral that make up the reef (we spotted some massive table corals and beautifully furrowed brain corals) as well as the many fish that darted around in this spectacular aquatic playground.
Conditions were perfectly suited for developing my underwater photography skills, and I was having a wonderful time drifting along taking some of my best underwater photos to date when disaster struck: my camera started making whirring noises and the back screen started flashing on and off. I was still able to take photos, but something was clearly not right. I handed the camera off to Tony and he tried his best to figure out its trauma, but unfortunately the camera gave up the ghost a few minutes later and just refused to turn on. Initially we thought that the front shutter had gotten jammed, but we eventually realized that it had clearly leaked somehow. This was so frustrating, because not only were we now without an underwater camera, but we had used the camera in the water less than 10 times and followed the care instructions to a T. As you can see from the underwater photos we have posted on this site, the caliber of the photos we took with our Panasonic Lumix TS4 were really fantastic, especially for a simple point & shoot. It even took great photos on land, and I was SO upset that it ultimately proved so unreliable. I would imagine that most people looking into this camera would intend to take advantage of its purported waterproof capabilities, but given that it crapped out on us after so little use, I would be very reluctant to unequivocally recommend it.
I did feel like this was a tad pricey and was annoyed that it seemed like you were charged for every little thing, but in the end, the money does go straight into the sanctuary, which does good work and is certainly a worthwhile cause so I didn’t want to be too much of a money-grubbing jerk. Ultimately, I’m happy to spend my money on an organization that is clearly passionate about protecting the natural resources of the Philippines, and it does elate the science geek inside of me to see other scientists doing such great work. Plus, we got to learn some things, had a lot of fun, and got to see some very cool and very large creatures that we had never seen before. Camera casualties aside, we had a great time visiting Camiguin’s Giant Clam Sanctuary and I would highly recommend it to anyone who makes it to the island.